Minutes after arriving at the scene of the brutal murders of Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez nearly 37 years ago, Orcutt resident and forensic analyst Doug Coleman said he knew their deaths were the work of a law enforcement officer.
“I kept thinking to myself that the suspect had to be someone with law enforcement experience,” said Coleman, who retired in 2008. "We all noticed that there wasn’t much evidence left behind in both the Sanchez/Domingo murders and the Dr. Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning shootings two years before that,” he said. “However, after both, we knew that it had to be the same suspect.”
That suspect is former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, of Citrus Heights, who was arrested by Sacramento police April 25. He is suspected of being the "Golden State Killer," also known as the Original Night Stalker, and is accused of killing 12 people including the Goleta residents, sexually assaulting over 40 people and breaking into more than 100 homes from Sacramento to Los Angeles in the 1970s and '80s.
Goleta residents Offerman, 44, and Manning, 35, a psychologist who was Offerman's girlfriend, were shot to death in 1979.
DeAngelo was arrested in his home after DNA linked him to alleged crimes involving victims from ages 13 to 41. He is linked through DNA evidence to both Goleta double homicides, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office.
On Thursday, county District Attorney Joyce Dudley announced that four first-degree murder charges have been filed against DeAngelo in connection with the four Goleta homicides.
Each special circumstances murder charge relates to one of the four victims -- Domingo, Sanchez, Manning and Offerman, Dudley said, and each each carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment without parole or the death penalty.
For the last three decades, Santa Barbara County law enforcement has been working to solve the Goleta murders.
DeAngelo was believed to be in the county between the years of 1978 and 1986, specifically in the area from Santa Maria to Carpinteria, according to county sheriff's officials.
Officials have released photos and a sketch of DeAngelo from the 1970s and are asking anyone who believes they saw him anywhere in the county or who personally knows him to contact law enforcement.
At the time of the Goleta murders Coleman, a county forensic investigator and Santa Maria Police crime lab supervisor, was working full time at the criminalistics lab at the Sheriff’s Office.
Coleman said he remembers the day he was called to the home of Domingo and Sanchez in July 1981 to process the crime scene.
Because the DeAngelo investigation is ongoing and more charges may be filed, Coleman said he couldn't share additional details. But, he said, it was clear to those who investigated the Domingo/Sanchez case that the suspect had to have law enforcement background.
There was no evidence of cleanup when he processed the crime scene, Coleman said, adding “It was eerie how nothing was left behind."
Many times during crimes of passion — when someone’s brutally beaten, murdered — a lot of stuff happens to the assailant, "where the mind goes berserk,” said Coleman. “It’s pretty common where the suspect sometimes throws up, or has some natural reaction, or absentmindedly leaves stuff everywhere. This suspect pretty much avoided all of that in both these murders.”
All the clothing, bed sheets and items in the bedroom where the couple's bodies were found were booked into evidence. Samples of carpet that might have contained human residue were also collected, Coleman said.
Bloody footprints were found on the carpet, and bloody fingerprints on the hallway walls indicated someone was attempting to feel their way around in the dark, Coleman said.
The power of DNA
DNA technology hadn't evolved at the time of the Goleta murders and wouldn’t be used regularly in criminal investigations for another 15 years or so.
“Back then, we’d detect specific blood types from blood found at any crime scene to solve a case,” Coleman said. “If a suspect had a blood type B or A, it would go a long way if we found any of his blood at the scene.”
Once a blood sample has been collected from a crime scene, it is stored until officials develop a suspect to match it against, Coleman said.
During the time of the Goleta homicides, DNA “wasn’t part of the forensic investigation dialogue,” Coleman said. “The plan back then was to just take evidence like foot or fingerprints, blood types, look for certain enzymes in blood samples and try to get as close as possible to a suspect, or eliminating a suspect.”
With DeAngelo's arrest in Sacramento, all evidence kept in the two Goleta cases will be sent to that jurisdiction.
The Sheriff’s Office never stopped working on this case, according to Coleman.
“Every five years or so new detectives are assigned to look into cold cases including these two,” Coleman said. “They often would notice something in one of the police reports, anything that might go over someone’s head.”
A string of leads developed in the cases since the late 1970s never led to any real results, according to Coleman. Authorities even consulted psychics, to no avail, he said.
As technology developed, investigators began collecting DNA from suspects in newer cases and developed a chart listing multiple types of DNA. That DNA was analyzed with samples of DNA found at the Goleta crime scene that didn’t belong to the victims, Coleman said.
“We’ve exhausted all of our leads by looking up any and all the criminals that were booked into our system in our county at the time of the Goleta homicides,” he added. “For example, if we made an arrest in a rape case during that time, we’d go look for their DNA to match any information we might already have that pertained to these two cases.”
Coleman said it was difficult to identify a suspect in the Goleta homicides because “this guy stopped killing for a very long period of time.
“There was a lot of DNA that was probably left on the clothes and other items, instruments found in both these homes,” Coleman said. “We swabbed every item we had to look for DNA and, hopefully, authorities will be able to process and match it with the right suspect.”
Coleman said that based on his expertise in the field, he feels “pretty good” that DeAngelo is the right suspect.
“I’m sure everyone, including myself, will be dying to know exactly how long the suspect was actually here in Santa Barbara County, and what even brought him here in the first place,” Coleman said. “Why these victims? Why Goleta? Were you on your way down to Southern California? Sometimes, that’s all it takes — just taking a pit stop somewhere.”
The longer the time lapse after a murder, “the harder your chances are of catching a suspect,” Coleman said.
“It feels great, though, now that they found someone. Imagine how the victim families feel now?”